The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9 Review: Smart Power

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Summits are going on all over the place these days.

On The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9, the time for Fred's much-anticipated trip to Canada has finally arrived, and he wants Serena Joy to join him to show off the glories of Gilead.

To say the trip was a bit of a mixed bag for everyone involved is an understatement.

A Wife from Gilead - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9

We've been having conversations about where Serena Joy stands on all things. Whether it's Gilead, June, the baby, her husband, and much more, it's safe to say Serena is going through some changes.

There's no arguing the fact Serena helped to make her made, but just as we all make our beds, there is a time to mess it up again, change the sheets, and someday buy a new mattress. Serena is contemplating all of those things, and she can't make up her mind what any of it means.

Related: The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 8 Review: Women's Work

There are a lot of people who get suckered into things they wouldn't otherwise do. They do it for fame, fortune, love, validation, or any other reason personal to them. Serena has to be thinking about that after her brutal beating at the hands of a man she loves on The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 8.

Serena has been duped.

Even knowing that doesn't mean Serena is going to make all the right choices going forward, but it does say she's shaking some of the cobwebs out of the mighty brain of hers.

Flinching with the Commander - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9

Being beaten in the name of God by Fred was humiliating. It has made her fearful for her life at the hands of her husband.

Those feelings were not only written all over her face during "Smart Power," but were shown in her actions. When Fred touched her in the greenhouse, a place she has probably been spending most of her time now that the pleasure of his absence is over, she flinched. Women don't recoil when they feel safe.

Serena also tried making excuses not to go on the Canadian visit with him. It undoubtedly wasn't because she wanted to stay behind with June, although she did use the baby in her justification to do so.

This trip is for the baby. We're building his future. You're a crucial part of that. The Canadians think women here are oppressed, that they're voiceless. I need you to show them a strong Gilead wife. Look to find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies. Why don't you get cleaned up?

Fred

The more Fred opens his mouth, the more idiotic he sounds. It's as if we're hearing him for the first time since we now listen to him through everyone. In the past, it was almost as if we heard him how Serena did, but now she's hearing nothing but garbage coming from him, too.

Poor Fred. He drank so much of his own Kool-Aid, he can't step back even an inch to consider how to fix the words that come out of his mouth.

Most of what Serena says now comes from a place of resignation. Shaking some leaves off the trees has left her quaking with the potential clarity of what she's done.

When you do start to see things the magnitude of someplace like Gilead, trying to wrap your head around what you've done would be daunting. June mentioned how impossible it was for her to imagine even simple things like Luke, a dive bar, or a big machete. But we saw how close two of those things truly are to her.

It's Not What It Looks Like - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9

They're very, very far in theory, but it didn't take that long for everyone in her closest proximity to get there. Serena will soon feel that way, I think. She sees light she didn't comprehend when she spoke with June before leaving.

It hurt her to imagine June, a very short-time friendly face, sticking around. But it wasn't out of hatred or even anger. It was the thought of hope remaining in the house and shaking her world up over and over.

Related: The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 7 Review: After

Going to Canada, I'd say, effectively did more to shake things up than the thought of keeping June around after the baby is born, not that she'll have a chance on the latter now that Aunt Lydia is involved.

June was covering all of her bases while the Waterfords were away. That idiot who was left to watch over the baby and the house (Thanks, Fred) knocking out women in the street was a real peach, but after Serena's dark words, his actions gave June the idea to ask Rita to care for her baby in her absence.

It was hard to tell why watching Rita with the beans was making June so happy, but it wound up in an extraordinary place.

There you go. I got you someone.

June

Not banking on any one avenue for the future, June also planted the seed to ensure either Aunt Lydia would be sticking around the Waterfords a lot when she got removed or that Aunt Lydia would help Serena see the light when it comes to keeping June around after the baby's birth.

June: Did anyone ever ask you to be a Godmother, in the time before?
Aunt Lydia: I will make allowances for girls in your condition, but not for insolence.
June: This baby is going to come into this house very soon, and in my experience, any man who would hurt a woman would hurt a child.
Aunt Lydia: What are you saying?
June: I'm saying... I'm saying this baby needs protection.
Aunt Lydia: I would never ever let anything happen to a baby.
June: Praise be. Aunt Lydia, thank you.

I wonder if we're going to see more of Aunt Lydia's backstory after the baby is born or if we're going to have to wait until The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 for that. 

The invitation for Godmother offered up the knowledge that was once the Godmother to her sister's baby who died four days after birth, not that it was Aunt Lydia's fault. Maybe that incident weighed on how she found herself as an aunt in the structure of Gilead.

Everything about the Canadian trip was done very well.

From Moira and Luke watching the Waterfords disembarking from the plane and requesting the Commander get arrested for rape to the moment the Waterfords were told their time in Canada was over and they could head back to the airport were worthy of discussion.

A Friend Indeed - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9

Serena Joy was like a little girl who had never been out of the mountains before as they rode through the city streets.

She was enjoying every minute of the trip she was so hesitant to take because she remembered what life was like once upon a time. When women were equals with men and kissing in the streets wasn't taboo.

Nick spent a lot of time watching Serena and sizing up her emotions while Fred looked annoyed. 

Related: The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6 Review: First Blood

Things took a turn for Serena Joy once they got out of the limousine, though. Fred didn't receive the most pleasant of welcomes, but he's too arrogant to understand or believe in context anymore. 

Serena Joy didn't miss any of it. It began when the hostess who greeted her showed Serena a schedule that looked much like a placemat at your local diner that would do double duty as a plaything for your kids to color while the adults conversed.

A Child's Placemat? - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9

The woman didn't know how to address Serena. As a wife, is that right? The insults kept coming when she talked about her work and its importance in her life, but she wasn't listening to Serena's cues that she understood the conversation. When Serena had to lie about her love of knitting, it was south from there.

Returning to her hotel room should have been a respite from the embarrassment Serena had suffered to that point, but a mother and daughter at the elevator threw Serena even more.

The daughter wondered if, in her strange, teal garb Serena was a princess. The girl's mother just wanted to get away from the weirdo that was Serena Joy.

Mark the American who helps people like Serena move to Hawaii where America hasn't been overthrown had studied up on the former American woman and hoped to lure her away with a book deal and coconuts.

Serena: So what do you do for your American government.
Mark: I've got a good job, but it's rewarding. Very rewarding. I can help you.
Serena: How?
Mark: Well, you don't want a cigarette. Maybe a new life?
Serena: [laughs] No thank you.
Mark: Mrs. Waterford, we could have you on a plane to Honolulu in half an hour. You would never have to go back to Gilead again.
Serena: I'm afraid I didn't pack for the beach.

We still haven't received confirmation that Serena Joy is infertile after her shooting, but I'm still of a mind that at that moment the tides turned from a woman who would otherwise have continued to love and laugh and try to change the world in more traditional ways to a woman who would allow Gilead to flourish.

And yes, I do not live under any delusion that without Serena Joy's input and approval, Gilead would not exist. However, I think losing her ability to reproduce was important in this process. 

In her book, Serena Joy wrote, "Never mistake a woman's meekness for weakness." Fred has forgotten all about who his wife was before. He's forgotten everything. So did Serena, at least for a while.

Serena: If you had done better research, you'd know I would never betray my country.
Mark: I thought you already did.

Mark, though, tries to seduce Serena away from everything with the promise of a new life. The life she's banking on now requires another woman's baby and many other factors to fall into place. Serena just isn't there yet to make the kind of a decision he's asking, though.

It doesn't mean she won't be at some point in the future. Mark gave Serena a lot of food for thought, and she held onto a pack of matches he left behind until it just wasn't safe to keep them anymore.

A Trip Abroad - The Handmaid's Tale

Watching the protests got to Serena. She could have never imagined one of them would hit so close to home.

Luke: Waterford, you fuckin' piece of shit!
Fred: Commander Waterford, if you don't mind. And you are?
Luke: Luke Bankole, and you raped my wife!
Fred: You have a simplistic impression of my country, Mr. Bankole. We all know the media doesn't care much about the truth these days.
Luke: Hey, hey! You're gonna remember my face 'cause I'm gonna remember yours, and this is all gonna be over someday.
Fred: You should remember your scripture, Mr. Bankole. This kingdom shall endureth forever.
Luke: Fuck you!

Seeing June's husband up and close and fighting for her in a way Fred stopped fighting for Serena a long, long time ago even against odds as high as those against Luke and June had to be like a stabbing pain for Serena.

She didn't shake it off, and she didn't embrace any of the courtesies Fred tried to show her, mild and insulting though they were.

Related: The Handmaid's Tale Renewed for Season 3 at Hulu

There's no telling what witnessing all that she did or ruminating on the offer Mark made to her will mean for Serena going forward, but as the kids today say, she's both "shook" and "woke." She might try to bury her head in the sand again, but it's going to be difficult to do without allies.

Without talking about what she's feeling, Serena has the possibility of breaking up inside. Knowing what you've unleashed on the world could do you in under her circumstances, and I don't think we're losing her from The Handmaid's Tale or the cause.

Serena's awakening means too much to the cause. Her awakening, especially given what intellectuals still think of her participation in the initial movement, could mean everything.

Losing Himself in Booze - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9

We have to talk about how much I despise love triangles and how I have inadvertently fallen for one that has grown up and around June on one of the darkest and dour shows on television.

Luke's attack on Waterford and sinking into his drink were alternately exhilarating and heartbreaking. And then there was Nick. 

A lot could have gone wrong when it came to Nick and Luke meeting at a dive bar at which June would give anything to be having a beer, even with the two men she loves standing side by side, awkward as it seemed.

I don't think I've had a personal moment with this series yet that made me giddy, but Nick finding Luke and sharing what he could with him about June made me clap my hands and squeal. How embarrassing. Yet there it was. I was also crying for Luke. Maybe a little for Nick, too.

The letters that Rita never sent worked better having been kept away than they ever could have if they'd been sent off as planned. They blew up Gilead's plans for a travel industry and, God forbid, further talk about extradition of illegal immigrants.

When Fred was babbling on about what a mess it was and how he'd be ridden hard over the disaster he made of things while in Canada, he tried to get help from his wife with the old, "We're so lucky, right?" question. Of course, they aren't lucky.

June: What?
Nick: I met your husband.
June: Luke?
Nick: He came after the Commander, called him out, scared him. Definitely.
June: Did he get hurt?
Nick: No. I found him after, gave him the letters. He's the one. He's the one who got them out.
June: Did he seem... Did he seem OK? Was he OK?
Nick: He loves you. He told me he'll never stop.
June: Thank you for that. Thank you for bringing me that.

June is lucky. June has a baby with a man she loves kicking inside her. She has real friends who care for her. She has not one, but soon two children of her own. She has two men who love her.

She is in a position she hates more than anything, and can't do what she wants with her life. She's oppressed and suffering, but still, she has more than Serena can hope for at this moment in her life. 

How that must pain Serena. It's not lost on her, either. That's why she wants June gone. Being close to someone like June who has more in her pitiful life than Serena hurts. But if she's smart, she'll ally herself with June and start living her life in a way that she, too, can find friends equally as invested.

Related: Carissa's Corner: Why are We In Love with Love Triangles?

One of the surprising moments of the hour was Mark the American telling Serena the fertility problem wasn't because of women, after all. There are still skilled Americans working day and night on the issue, and they've made progress.

Their progress says infertility in their situation lies with the men, and fertility rates are rising again. Maybe Serena can have a baby of her own someday.

Now, we know she can't have one with Fred, but it's entirely possible the doctors didn't try all that hard to determine the length of the destruction of her reproduction system after the shooting (I'm sticking with my assumption -- call me ass) because they already believed all issues were with women. 

Will that factor into Serena's thoughts going forward?

Behind the Scenes of a Great Moment - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9

And we have to get a behind the scenes look at one of my favorite scenes. Despite recent evidence I'm not the pessimist I once was (I'm almost embarrassed to have become an optimist as I've aged), I was wavering on Nick. 

It's the scene upon with a genuine love story and gosh dang darn it love triangle was born.

Nick: He wanted me to tell you that Moira got out, too.
June: Moira?
Nick: I think she's staying with him now.
June: [laughing and crying] Oh my god, they could kill each other.
Nick: I should go. Eden's probably wondering.
June: Yes, OK.
Nick: I love you. [Kisses her on the cheek]

Nick isn't one of the bad guys disguised as a good guy. He is a good guy. His treatment of Eden notwithstanding (look, she's annoying), Nick does the right thing all of the time. Even with Eden, he's not leading her on in any way. He has to be with her, but he's keeping his distance.

With June, though, he's in love. Nick met and shared information with Luke (not that HE's the father, granted), and then shared with a very personal conversation between husband and wife with the woman he loves as if he was nothing more than a telex machine.

Luke loves you, June, and he's never giving up. And I love you, June. Oh boy. 

I hate love triangles, but this one fell into place in a way that couldn't be helped. I love them all, and with the honesty that's currently at play, it's impossible to choose a happy ending for June, but I sure hope she gets one.

Smart Power Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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Rating: 4.4 / 5.0 (17 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9 Quotes

Serena Joy: Offred, I've given it some thought, and you'll be leaving the house as soon as the baby is born.
June: No. Handmaid's stay until the baby is weaned.
Serena Joy: I think we've all had more than enough of one another, don't you?
June: [shakes her head no while saying] Yes, Mrs. Waterford.

This trip is for the baby. We're building his future. You're a crucial part of that. The Canadians think women here are oppressed, that they're voiceless. I need you to show them a strong Gilead wife. Look to find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies. Why don't you get cleaned up?

Fred